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Tracking and the Brain Shot
Large bull skull compared to cartridge sizes.
Photo 3: Cross-section of brain cavity of large bull showing size in relation to: (L-R) 7 x 57; .404; .470ne; .577; 4 bore. The white dot next to 4-bore case marks external location of the earhole.

For a frontal brain shot, the target is considerably reduced. The tusk bases of a bull come right up in front of the brain, shielding most of it (fig 3). Every elephant is slightly different, but you can basically assume that if you deviate by more than 2" from the centreline, the bullet will hit the tusk base. At best this will only crack the ivory, but as both the socket and the tusk have rounded surfaces and are very hard (see photo 4) it may well also deflect the bullet sufficiently to cause it to miss the brain.

As to the shot placement itself, this is entirely dependent on the angle of the elephant’s head, and your position relative to him (ie if the terrain puts you higher or lower relative to him). It’s all very well to consider the perfect shot (see fig 3) with you and the elephant on level ground, but experience says that if he is facing you, he’s onto something and will be lifting his head for a better look, dropping his head for a charge, lifting his trunk to try and smell you, etc. Therefore, the easiest method is to imagine a pole passing through his head and protruding from each ear hole (see photos 4 and 5). You then shoot to hit that pole. If the head is held high, you may think that you are shooting too low, since you are putting the bullet through the lower face, but this is immaterial (see photo 5). Remember that the brain lies right at the back of the head, with the ear hole being half way up the cavity and one quarter of the way forward (see photo 2). The whole target area from the front (on a bull) is only some 4" wide by 7" high, but as the range for a frontal shot should be under 30 metres this isn’t too difficult. With cows, the target is possibly larger since the tusk bases don’t obscure the brain as much and one can safely count on a 5" circle.

Relaxed frontal position.
Photo 4: The angle of the elephant's skull as it would appear when the elephant is relaxed.
Looking down trunk frontal position.
Photo 5: The angle of the elephant's head as it would appear when the elephant raises its head to look down its trunk.

With any brain shot, a near miss of the brain will stun the animal. Bulls are fairly hardy, and they may be dazed but will often remain on their feet. (A bull in Zimbabwe took four .700 nitro bullets in the head, not that far off the mark, and still remained on its feet.) Cows have considerably smaller heads, more fluid in the ‘honeycomb’, and consequently, are much more susceptible to shock (concussion) and frequently collapse as if brain shot, even when the bullet has missed the brain by a reasonably wide margin. With any brain shot animal, ALWAYS fire a follow up shot... or seven into the chest. There are too many instances of certifiably dead elephants getting up and walking away for this to be ignored. It happened to the best of the professional ivory hunters and not infrequently on the culling operations. If professionals, who have shot hundreds to thousands of elephants can make mistakes on whether a ‘brained’ elephant is dead or not, no amateur should take it for granted.

Frontal position of skull relative to physical features, tusks, ears, eyes, etc. Use 'PH Vision' controls to see through to skull.

In the next article (Part Two) we will consider the body shot,
and trophy estimation and measurement technique.

Go to Page: 1 2 3 4 Related Articles: Hunting African Elephant Part 2
Hunting African Elephant Part 3
Fact File: African Elephant
Firearms: .375 on Elephant
.
African Hunter Vol.5 No.2 April 1999
  .Home .Hunter's Guide .Elephant Part One
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